"The metropolis affords many amusements which are open to all; it is itself an astonishing and perpetual spectacle to the curious eye; and each taste, each sense, may be gratified by the variety of objects..the pleasures of a town life, the daily round from the tavern to the play, from the play to the coffee house, from the coffee house to the ******* are within the reach of every man". Edward Gibbon 1796

Confronted with a city like London, it's difficult to know where to start. This section of our website is full of general information - if you're visiting London for the first time start here. It's a guide to the History of London, the manners and customs of the English, practicalities such as banks, shop opening hours and money-related matters, and how to avoid getting caught out on some tricky pronunciations.

This page is where we highlight the best: our top ten of places to visit and things to do, not only compiled by our researchers from their reviews, but from our surveys of tourists on the streets of London. It changes to reflect new openings and closures, as well as shifting opinions. 26 million people visited London last year - but the high pound meant to a drop in visitors in 2000 - and a greater emphasis on value for money.



If you have limited time we recommend you follow this list, or take our recommended itinerary

1) The Tate Modern, Tate Britain and National Galleries. All free so don't bolt your art, digest it slowly with frequent visits. London's public collections are the best in the world. What's amazing is the consistent high quality of all the works displayed - there are no duds! Details on our Art page

2) Hampton Court. We rate this as one of the best attractions in Europe. A whole succession of monarchs have added to Henry VIII's original palace. A fantastic park (by Capability Brown) and gardens (including the famous maze), Tudor kitchens and one of the last remaining Real Tennis courts. Lots of free (once you've paid the admission) guided tours, some in costume, by people who know and love the place. It's also surrounded by a series of parks and makes a great destination for a bike trip - train out (30 mins from Waterloo), bike back (12 miles) along the river. We prefer it to the Tower of London (less bleak)- you'll probably want to visit both, it knocks the spots off Buckingham Palace. Details on our Historic London page

3) The River. Walk along the South Bank from Tower Bridge to Lambeth (see itinerary section).The best of London is spread out for you: The Houses of Parliament, Lambeth Palace (residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury), Shakespeare's Globe theatre, Both Tate Galleries, St Paul's Cathedral, The South Bank Centre, The Temple, The London Eye. Or you can take a boat out to Greenwich, the Thames Barrier or the Dome.

4) Westminster Abbey Where they crown Kings, and bury bards. A steep admission charge (should really be free or voluntary donation), but a masterpiece nonetheless. If you get bored of waiting in the queue, or crushed by the crowds, hie yourself off to the City where there's more square footage of historic church, and empty.

5) The Houses of Parliament If you're lucky enough to get in the strangers gallery for Question Time, see the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition snipe at each other across the floor of the house, while MPs jeer or enthuse obsequiously. At other times the debates can be soporific - queue up outside the Parliament building when the MPs are sitting, left for commons, right for Lords. It's worth asking what's being debated. Often later in the evening the debates liven up again.

When they're not sitting you can go on a 75 minute tour of both Commons and Lords, at a price of £6-8, which we think is excellent value. You'll get to see such treasures as King Charles I's death warrant, the throne, the robing rooms etc.  Tel: 0207 344 9966  for tickets, which can be purchased in advance and also from Ticketmaster ticket agencies. THere's a ticket office opposite the entrance to the House of Lords, on College Green, and tours are available in many languages. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, though only available in summer months.

6) The Inns of Court - again a free attraction - medieval 'Inns' five in number (Grays, Lincoln's, Inner, Middle, Outer) house lawyers who still use laws going back 1000 years, reside in glorious buildings and retain arcane manners and modes of dress. Their habitat run North to South perpendicular to the river. To qualify as a lawyer in Britain you have to eat 12 meals in an accredited Inn. That's (really) all. Also there's the rooms where Prince Henry lived. Take in the amazing John Soane museum on the way. This is Walk Three on our itinerary page. 

7) The Parks - the lungs of London, you can walk from Westminster to Holland Park (look on the tube map) solely in the parks. The view from the bridge in St James Park towards Whitehall is stunning. Regent's has excellent cultivated gardens and the famous zoo, Hyde Park has Speakers' Corner where fanatics rail and preach, St James has the lake and pelicans, Green is Stately and Royal and Kensington Gardens houses the Royal Costume collection. Holland park has the Orangery and an Opera House, as well as the most beautiful youth hostel in the country. This is Walk Two on our itinerary page. You can bathe naked on Hampstead Heath, go fly a kite on Blackheath or visit the deer in Greenwich park. One of the tourists we surveyed placed the Japanese Garden in Holland Park at the top of his list - he found it an oasis of peace in the overwhelming bustle of London.

8) The City home to the Bank of England, Bow Bells, and the few remaining architectural treasures of Samuel Pepys' London. Many nooks and crannies preserve the taste of Victorian London - chop houses unchanged in their menus and habits since the Relief of Mafeking. Home of the Royal Shakespeare Company in London, this is really a place to potter round see our itinerary page for details of two routes we've worked out to take in the best of the City. There are many good official guided tours - the tour of City Churches is an award winner.

9) Museums and Galleries The British Museum, The Victoria & Albert, Sir John Soane's museum, the Natural History and Science Museums, the Museum of London - to pick but a few. More details on our Museums page.

10) The Theatre: - It'd be a crime to visit London and not take in a show. Londoners have been passionate about the theatre for centuries not only is the quality high, but the price is low - one third the price of Broadway. Classical Music and Opera is of a similarly high standard and low price. See our Entertainments page for more details. 
Guidebook to what to see
                      and do in London

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